DOL Issues New Overtime Rule for Exempt Employees

By Alexandra D. Thaler

With the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rule becoming effective in less than two months, on January 1, 2020, employers are well advised to be working now to implement any needed changes by the new year.

This fall, the DOL issued its final rule affecting pay requirements for exempt executive, administrative and professional employees (the so-called “white collar” exemptions) under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The rule:

  • Raises “standard salary level” required for the white collar exemptions to $684 per week (annualized to $35,568), up from the $455 per week level that has been in place since 2004;
  • Raises the annual compensation requirement for “highly compensated employees” (those who have at least one exempt duty) to $107,432 per year, up from $100,000;
  • Allows nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to be used to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level, including in a one-time catch-up payment, if certain conditions are met; and
  • Revises certain special salary levels applicable to workers in U.S. territories and the motion picture industry.

Employers that elect to transition currently exempt employees into overtime-eligible status, and decide to change from salary to hourly pay, will need to determine a method for setting the pay rate.  While the “reverse engineering” method, which uses the current salary to arrive at an hourly rate, may address business needs in some cases, employers should note that use of this method may be constrained in states with stringent Equal Pay laws.  Employers interested in using the 10% allowance to meet the new pay obligations are advised to consult with counsel before proceeding, as failure to meet the conditions in the new rule results in loss of the exemption and therefore liability for overtime pay.

Employers that decide to move forward with the shift from exempt to non-exempt status should plan ahead to address likely logistical and employee relations challenges, for example:

  • Ensuring accurate recording and timely reporting of hours of work for a new cohort
  • Ensuring compliance with meal and rest break requirements in certain states
  • Changing wage payment timing, in states where non-exempt pay must be more frequent
  • Devising appropriate messaging to deal with such issues as potential concerns of employees who view the change as a demotion or reduction in status, or who have questions about past practices

As a reminder, businesses must also comply with state and local overtime pay requirements and exemption standards.   Where those standards already exceed the new FLSA levels, such as in New York, California, and Alaska, the new DOL rule will have little practical impact on exempt employees’ pay.  More generally, however, companies should track overtime pay obligations on the state and local level to ensure these obligations are met as to non-exempt employees.  For example, California, Colorado, and several other western states have daily (not just weekly) overtime pay requirements.  In addition, some states do not recognize the same exemptions from overtime as are available under the FLSA, while others apply different duties tests when determining whether an exemption applies.

While the DOL rule appears fairly simple at first glance, it can raise complicated compliance issues, which should be considered carefully before changes are implemented.  At the same time, employers that have been considering changes to employee classifications may find this is a logical time to implement them.  Your Bello Welsh, LLP counsel is available to advise you on these matters and to work with you to determine available options, assess legal and business risk, and implement an agreed plan.

Administrative Law Judge Recommends Dismissal of Department of Labor’s Pay Discrimination Claims Against Federal Contractor

By Justin L. Engel

Following a two-week trial, Bello Welsh has secured a major victory for a federal contractor in an enforcement action alleging gender-based pay discrimination brought by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) under Executive Order 11246.  The case, OFCCP v. Analogic Corporation, No. 2017-OFC-00001, is the first and only OFCCP case in the United States claiming gender pay discrimination to go to trial, and the decision is likely to have significant implications for OFCCP’s dealings with federal contractors going forward.

The origins of the case date back to an OFCCP compliance review that began in December 2011.  Over two years later, in January 2014, OFCCP issued a Notice of Violation claiming that the contractor violated the federal Executive Order by paying females in two specific positions less than males in those same positions.  A trial was held before Administrative Law Judge Colleen A. Geraghty in October 2017, and briefs were submitted in February 2018.

On March 22, 2019, Judge Geraghty issued a 43-page decision recommending that OFCCP’s pay discrimination claims be dismissed, rejecting the theory of discrimination presented by OFCCP’s expert, and finding instead that the contractor’s expert demonstrated that there was no such discrimination.  In so ruling, Judge Geraghty held that OFCCP failed to prove a pattern and practice case of pay discrimination under either a disparate impact or disparate treatment analysis.

Judge Geraghty specifically found OFCCP’s disparate impact claim to be deficient because OFCCP never identified a specific policy or practice that caused the alleged pay disparity.  Further, the statistical evidence offered by OFCCP’s expert to demonstrate a pay disparity was effectively refuted by the statistical evidence presented by the contractor’s expert.

Judge Geraghty also found OFCCP’s disparate treatment claim to be deficient because, again, OFCCP’s statistical evidence was rebutted by the contractor’s more persuasive statistical evidence.  Judge Geraghty further determined that OFCCP had failed to present “anecdotal evidence” – that is, specific instances – of intentional discrimination, while the contractor offered substantial evidence that it did not discriminate against women.

A final decision in the case will be issued by the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board.

The import of this case is substantial, as it is likely to impact the types of statistical and other evidence that will be deemed sufficient to support a pattern and practice claim of pay discrimination, be it based on gender or any other protected status.

Bello Welsh will be providing a more detailed discussion of the decision and its potential implications in the coming weeks.

DOL Signals Loosening in Regulatory Stance on Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employer Liability

Alexandra D. Thaler and Justin Engel

The federal Department of Labor signaled this week that it is reversing course on Obama-era policies that had resulted in the risk of expansive employer liability with respect to worker classification and joint employment.  The DOL’s withdrawal of two controversial guidance documents from 2015 and 2016 is one in a series of steps indicating that the Trump administration seeks to make good on campaign promises to loosen regulations on employers.

In 2015 the DOL had articulated its view of the definition of an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act in the context of independent contractor misclassification.  In an informal guidance known as an Administrator’s Interpretation (AI), the DOL reviewed the application of the so-called “economic realities” test used to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.  This multi-factor test is much broader than the common law “control” test, and as a result it sweeps more relationships under the label of “employment.”  The DOL thus concluded that application of the test results in the finding that “most workers are employees under the FLSA.”  Although the DOL purported to rely on established precedent in reaching this conclusion, its clear message to employees and businesses was that the Department would take the broadest possible view of employment relationships in investigation and enforcement proceedings going forward.  Accordingly, the withdrawal of the guidance sends the message that the DOL will be softening its stance on this issue.

As we wrote at the time, in a subsequent Administrator’s Interpretation issued in early 2016, the DOL advocated an expansive definition of joint employment.  The DOL asserted that joint employment could be either “horizontal” or “vertical,” and may exist when “an employee is employed by two (or more) employers and the employers are responsible, both individually and jointly, for that employee under the law.”   While the AI’s description of “horizontal” joint employment largely conformed to the established approach, which looks to the common law “control” test to determine whether an employee is sufficiently controlled by two or more employers for joint employment to arise, the DOL’s definition of “vertical” joint employment represented a significant departure from this precedent.  According to the guidance, “vertical” joint employment “exists where the employee has an employment relationship with one employer (typically a staffing agency, subcontractor, labor provider, or other intermediary employer) and the economic realities show that he or she is economically dependent on, and thus employed by, another entity involved in the work.”  By announcing that vertical joint employment status should be evaluated using the multi-factor “economic realities” test, the DOL clearly intended to broaden the circumstances in which employers could be found jointly and severally liable for FLSA violations.  Thus, the DOL’s withdrawal of the 2016 AI signals a return to the narrow common law focus on control as the touchstone for determining whether joint employment exists.

While it remains to be seen what specific impact the withdrawals of these interpretations will have, employers that had been wary of the Obama administration’s broad pronouncements in the area of wage and hour enforcement, and business groups that had urged the withdrawal of these interpretations, will welcome this change.   These and other recent announcements—including the proposed 2018 federal budget, which contains a dramatic 21% funding cut for the DOL and proposes the merger of the OFCCP into the EEOC while also significantly cutting the OFCCP’s budget—may mean that the regulatory landscape for employers will experience significant loosening in the months and years to come.  However, it is important to keep in mind that other regulatory or even Congressional action in other areas relating to the employer-employee relationship (most notably a possible increase to the minimum salary requirement for exempt employees on which the DOL will soon solicit public comment once again, according to a recent statement by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta), may yet result in significant impact on businesses and individuals.

Overtime Update: Will the Texas Decision Invalidating the DOL Overtime Rule Survive and What Should Employers Do Now?

By Kenneth M. Bello

Now that a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction staying implementation of the new DOL regulations revising salary thresholds for determining application of the white collar minimum wage and overtime pay exemptions, otherwise slated to go into effect on December 1st, what happens next, and how quickly will that occur?  Here are the possibilities.

  • An interlocutory appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. How that comes out is anyone’s guess, but the case is vulnerable in its analysis, as detailed below.
  • Congressional Action that renders the decision academic. On September 28, 2016, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6094, titled Regulatory Relief for Small Business, Schools, and Nonprofits ActThe bill would have changed the effective date of the revised overtime regulations from December 1, 2016 until June 1, 2017.  With a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, there is a very real possibility that some form of law will be filed and passed in 2017.  The question of course is what will that bill look like – for examples, will it exempt “small business”, and will it change the minimum salary amounts and/or remove automatic indexing?

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DOL Overtime Rule Stopped: Nationwide Injunction Issued by Texas Judge

In a last-minute, and therefore surprising, decision issued today, a Texas Federal District Court judge has blocked enforcement of the revised federal overtime rule set to become effective December 1, 2016.  The rule, issued by the federal Department of Labor, would require employers to pay a salary of at least $913 dollars per week (equivalent to $47,476 per year), to most employees treated as exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, a significant increase over the current $455 per week ($23,660 annually).  The ruling came in response to cases filed in the last several weeks by certain groups of states, and the decision to issue the injunction has surprised some commentators.

Despite being issued by a single Texas trial court judge, the injunction ostensibly has nationwide effect, and completely prevents the DOL from enforcing the revised rule, just days before it was scheduled to take effect.  It remains to be seen whether an immediate appeal will follow, and ultimately whether the injunction will be upheld.  Employers that have not already implemented changes to employee pay or classifications will need to make decisions regarding whether to go ahead with changes in the face of this uncertainty.  We will continue to provide updated analysis and will be available in the coming days to discuss these developments with any clients seeking guidance in making these decisions.

 

Proposed Rule Issued for Federal Contractor Paid Sick Leave

By Alexandra (Sasha) Thaler

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced last Thursday that it has posted for comment its Proposed Rule implementing President Obama’s September 7, 2015 Executive Order (EO 13706), which requires certain federal contractors and their subcontractors to provide employees with up to 7 days (56 hours) of paid sick leave annually.  The rule affects contractors entering into new contracts on or after January 1, 2017 that are covered by the Service Contract Act, the Davis-Bacon Act, or the Fair Labor Standards Act, concessions contracts, and service contracts in connection with federal property or lands. These contractors will need to include a new contract clause in applicable solicitations and government contracts, included as Appendix A to the Proposed Rule.

Under the new rule, employees must be allowed to earn paid sick time at a rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked. This mirrors many recently enacted state and municipal sick time laws across the country. However, accruals may not be capped at less than 56 hours, an amount that is higher than required by some jurisdictions, including Massachusetts and California.

The Proposed Rule provides that sick time must be made available for absences due to the employee’s own physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition, and for obtaining diagnosis, care or preventative treatment for the employee, as well as for caring for family members for the same reasons, and for absences relating to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking (including for medical, legal and other needs that may arise in those circumstances). In a departure from some existing state and local laws, however, the definition of a family member is quite broad, and includes not only children, parents, spouses and domestic partners, but also “any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

The new federal contractor requirement also has some of the same aspects of other sick time laws that are most likely to cause problems in administration, such as allowing employees to use sick time in 1-hour increments, requiring carryover of unused hours from year to year, requiring reinstatement of unused time following interruptions in service of up to 12 months, and requiring sick time to be granted even if the employee provides little or no prior notice.

Due to the rash of activity in this area in recent years, many employers have already implemented paid sick time policies, while others have had comprehensive PTO policies for some time. The Proposed Rule permits existing sick time, PTO or other time off policies to substitute for the new paid sick time requirement so long as those policies meet the minimum standards of the new rule. Employers that plan to rely on existing policies to meet the new requirements should consult with experienced employment counsel to assess whether they fully meet the new requirements. The good news is that employers will have until January 1, 2017 to implement compliant policies. The Wage and Hour division invites comments on the proposed rule until March 28, 2016.

EEOC Proposes Changes to EEO-1 Reporting to Include Pay Data

By Martha J. Zackin

Today, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a proposed revision to the Employer Information Report (EEO-1) to include the annual collection and reporting of pay data.  Currently, federal law requires federal contractors with 50 or more employees, and all other employers with 100 or more employees, to file an annual EEO-1 report, which reports employees’ ethnicity, race, and sex by job category.  The revised EEO-1 would require all employers with 100 or more employees to continue to collect and report this demographic data and, in addition, pay data.  Federal contractors with between 50 and 99 employees would not be required to report pay data, but would continue to report ethnicity, race, and sex.

According to the press release published announcing this new requirement, the data collected will be used by both the EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) “to assess complaints of discrimination, focus agency investigations, and identify existing pay disparities that may warrant further examination.”  In addition, as described in an EEOC- published “Questions and Answer” document, the data will be aggregated and published, to “help employers evaluate their own pay practices to prevent pay discrimination in their workplaces.”

A “Small Business Fact Sheet” provides a detailed description of the data that would be collected if the proposal becomes law.  In summary, using W-2 wage data employers would tally and report the number of employees within each EEO-1 job category whose W-2 pay for twelve months was in one of twelve “pay bands.”  These pay bands, which would track the twelve pay bands used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Occupation Employment Statistics survey, are:

    1. $19,239 and under;
    2. $19,240 – $24,439;
    3. $24,440 – $30,679;
    4. $30,680 – $38,999;
    5. $39,000 – $49,919;
    6. $49,920 – $62,919;
    7. $62,920 – $80,079;
    8. $80,080 – $101,919;
    9. $101,920 – $128,959;
    10. $128,960 – $163,799;
    11. $163,800 – $207,999; and
    12. $208,000 and over.

In addition to reporting (by ethnicity, race and sex) the number of employees whose total W-2 pay fell into each pay band, employers would also tally and report the total number of hours worked by the employees counted in each pay band over the prior twelve months. This would accounts for part-time or partial-year employment.

Members of the public may submit comments through April 1, 2016.  Barring revision or withdrawal of the proposal, employers will be required to comply with the new EEO-1 obligations by submit ting pay data as of the September 30, 2017 EEO-1 filing deadline.

The EEOC also The proposed revised EEO-1 may be viewed here.

Joint Employment: DOL Issues Adminstrator’s Interpretation

By Martha J. Zackin

The legal concept of joint employment has been around for many years, first gaining national prominence in 1996, after a federal appeals court found Microsoft to be a co-employer of thousands of workers classified either as “contractors” or “temporary employees” retained through a staffing company.  The case, Vizcaino v. Microsoft,, 97 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 1996), ultimately settled for $97 million dollars.

In 2015 the National Labor Relations Board weighed in, with Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., 362 NLRB No. 186.  As described in a press release describing the BFI decision, the NLRB will now find two or more entities to be joint employers of a single workforce if “(1) they are both employers within the meaning of the common law;  and (2) they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment.”  In evaluating joint employment status, the NLRB considers whether an employer has exercised control over terms and conditions of employment indirectly through an intermediary, such as a staffing company.  Remarkably, with BFI, the NLRB will find joint employment even where a company has not actually exercised control, but has merely “reserved the authority to do so.”

 

Multiple federal courts also joined the discussion in during 2015, with both the Third and the Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals finding staffing buyers to be joint employers with the staffing companies whose workers performed the services.   Although the tests applied by the courts were slightly different, the courts in both Butler v. Drive Automotive, 793 F.3d 404 (4th Circuit 2015) and Faush v. Tuesday Morning, Inc., (3rd Circuit 2015) focused on the staffing buyers’ right to control the manner and means by which the work was performed.

Today, the Department of Labor offered its view on joint employment, issuing Administrator’s Interpretation No.  2016-1.  Not surprisingly, the DOL advocates an expansive definition of joint employment “to ensure that workers receive the protections to which they are entitled.”  Within the Administrator’s Interpretation, the DOL introduces the concepts of “horizontal joint employment” and “vertical joint employment.”  According to the DOL, both “horizontal” and “vertical” joint employment exist when “an employee is employed by two (or more) employers and the employers are responsible, both individually and jointly, for that employee under the law.”  With “horizontal” joint employment, an employee may be employed by two companies that share operations.  The “vertical” joint employment relationship is akin to the traditional staffing relationship, where a business obtains workers through an arrangement with an intermediary employee.

With the Administrator’s Interpretation, the DOL also published a blog entry, along with FAQ’s graphic illustrations of “horizontal joint employment” and “vertical joint employment.”

A broad standard of joint employment will have a significant impact on many businesses.   For example, entities deemed to be joint employers may find themselves liable for actions taken by their contractors and suppliers, if those contractors and suppliers are deemed to be joint employers.  Moreover, under the expansive definition described above, non-unionized employers found to be joint employers of unionized entities may find themselves subject to collective bargaining obligations.  Small businesses and franchise owners may be responsible for medical care under the Affordable Care Act, among other laws, if their employees are grouped together and counted with the employees of their co-employers.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Update on DOL changes to FLSA White Collar Exemptions

By Alexandra D. Thaler

As we previously reported here, the Department of Labor will soon be revising the so-called “white collar exemptions” to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Recently, the DOL has indicated that it now plans to issue the Final Rule in July 2016.

To recap, on June 30, 2015, the DOL issued a detailed report and proposed rule, inviting the public to submit comments through September 4, 2015.  The agency has received nearly 300,000 comments to date, underscoring the intense interest the proposed changes have garnered across diverse stakeholder groups. Read more

Workplace Violence: Can the Risk be Mitigated?

By Martha J. Zackin

Workplace violence is once again in the headlines, due to the horrific, on-air murders of a journalist and cameraman allegedly by a disgruntled former employee of the television station that employed the two victims.

But what exactly is workplace violence?  Workplace violence, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), may be defined as violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty.  The results of workplace violence may range from offensive language to homicide; the circumstances may include robbery-associated violence; violence by disgruntled clients, customers, patients, inmates, residents, and the like; violence by coworkers, employees, or employers; and domestic violence that finds its way into the workplace.

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